There aren’t many things more inspiring than a story of a person with a big dream and a big vision who takes risks, puts in the work and overcomes obstacles along the way to become successful.
It’s hard enough these days pursuing an education, finding a fulfilling career path and starting a business. But, try doing all those things when your family is halfway across the world and you don’t speak the native language.
That’s the story of Miri Park, chief operating officer of Chromis Fiberoptics in a nutshell.
“When I was a kid growing up in South Korea, I had always wanted to see more — I had wanted to see the world,” says Miri. “I knew that there must be a lot more ways people live and do things. And those things make my heart tick — new things, new challenges and the unfamiliar. I had longed for something different and something new. So at a very early age, I began thinking of studying abroad.”
However, Korean culture is quite traditional and Miri’s family is quite conservative. The idea of sending a daughter across the pacific ocean to a boarding school was unthinkable to Miri’s parents.
That wasn’t going to stop Miri. After she finished middle school, she spent the next two years working to convince her parents to let her study abroad in the United States. Her father challenged her. “You know, Miri,” he said, “if you can get admission from one of these school in the States and you can prove to me that you can do this by yourself, I’ll pay for you to go.”
That was just the motivation Miri needed. She started calling people and using magazines and newspapers to find ways to connect to schools in the states. One school gave her an acceptance letter, and that was all she needed.
Miri went back to her father with the letter and said, “You promised me!” She knew that he thought she couldn’t do it, but she did.
Then her father, very seriously, did all the necessary checks on the school she was accepted to and what would be involved in sending her to the U.S. Miri never changed her mind, but her father didn’t give up either.
Even as he was driving her to the airport he said, “You know, Miri, I already paid the tuition, but if you change your mind I can turn the car around.” But she wasn’t changing her mind.
Miri was on her way out of South Korea — leaving the country for the first time heading to America.
Her time at boarding school was certainly challenging and scary. She says, “I was so young, but the school was very safe and I was living with kids my age, so it was a lot of fun for me. We would go to class together, play together, do homework together and of course we lived together. The language was challenging, but thankfully I was young enough to pick things up rather quickly.”
And quickly she did. Miri excelled in school and went on to study at Cornell where she ultimately graduated with a PHD in applied experimental physics. From there she did her post-doctoral work at Princeton.
While studying at Cornell, Miri met Woosuk Kim, another South Korean, who was in the MBA program. They fell in love and got married in South Korea before moving to New Jersey. Woosuk got a job in the city and Miri was able to study at Princeton.
Miri had always been drawn to technology. “I always get so excited about finding technology being applied to the little things in everyday life,” she said. “The very trivial things you pick up. Even this coffee mug that I’m drinking out of, there’s a lot of material science behind it, a lot of work to create this coffee mug. Things we don’t even think about, but I think about those things.
“There’s a lot of engineering work into the table I’m using, the telephone I’m talking into, etc. There’s just so much behind it all. I get very excited about that — about how technology and science can be applied to everyday life. It’s those things that change the way people live and improve the way people live.
“Additionally, when I came to the U.S., science and math just came easier for me. I could do my science and math homework in an hour, but I would struggle writing and essay all night.”
After finishing up her post-doctoral work at Princeton, Miri began working for Lucent Technologies (now known as Alcatel Lucent) working in the company’s optoelectronics field. That work led her to working with plastic optical fibers and eventually to the AV industry.
In 2004, Miri worked with a partner doing a buyout of the plastic optical fiber business at Alcatel Lucen and with that, co-founded her company Chromis Fiberoptics. (Initially, there were four co-founders, but only two of them are involved in the current operation.)
At Chromis, engineers have been commercializing and pioneering the use of plastic optical fiber technology, which let them to getting into supplying the techology for HDMI and DVI cables, etc. In fact, one of the company’s partners, FSR, for which Chromis makes cables, won one of rAVe’s Best of InfoComm 2013 awards this year.
Miri, passionate about the work they are doing, says, “There is so much of technology and science behind a seemingly simple product like one of our HDMI AOCs — just plug one end into a DVD player, the other into a HD display. It is the result of many years and millions of dollars of R&D in plastic optical fiber technology, starting with its origins at Bell Labs at Lucent Technology and continuing to the present day here at Chromis Fiberoptics. I know it well from having lived through its product development and commercialization.”
To say Miri is hardworking and successful would be an understatement.
While being a co-founder of a company isn’t exactly a nine to five job, Miri does her best to balance it all. She is a wife and a mother to two daughters, Alexis (16) and Jessica (11). She also is active in her community, volunteering to teach catechism at her church and helping during the Christmas season with fundraising for an organization that raises money for poverty-stricken children in North Korea.
“I work with the youth at my church to show them that they need to think about other people around the world,” said Miri. “It’s so important to show them and teach them about caring for others.”
In addition to all of that, Miri is encouraged about working in the AV industry and where it’s headed. She hopes to inspire others with her story. “I want people to know, especially women and younger people, that if you have a desire and you’re prepared to contribute and and prepared to add value, it’s all fair game,” she said. “Yes, being a minority is more work and more difficult at times, but as long as you prepare yourself to work hard and add value, you can be successful. Don’t be afraid of going into it and trying your best.
“Having more women and increasing diversity in the AV industry is so healthy. It will only continue to be that way the more we work hard at what we are trying to accomplish.”
Miri’s example is inspirational and one we could all look to follow.